Barça 4, Atletico 1, aka “Not all that pretty, but so, so beautiful”

It must be the shoes!

This can be a cruel game, and I type this even as I am nursing a sore knee from having fallen off a barstool, thanks to Adriano.

Atletico de Madrid came out with a perfect game plan that they executed flawlessly. If we were to sum it up, it would be the same as all of our other opponents this season:

Don’t let that little guy kill you
Worry about other players when you have to
Get a early lead
Play on the counter, to take advantage of their slow back line

Check, check, check, and check.

To boot, Atletico received the added gift of Barça’s best player sleepwalking through the match, one wide forward continuing to wallow in mediocrity while the other alternated between delightful and vexing. They even got the first goal.

Perfect. So what the hell happened?

All of the talk going in was about Messi vs Falcao, two scorers tearing up world football, grabbing headlines and inspiring sonnets of superlatives. But this match was always going to come down to the 20 other guys who work in tandem with those two. And in that realm, Barça’s other 10 guys were dramatically better than Atletico’s other 10 guys. Simple, yet deeper than that.

You also had two clubs set up to stop the other guy from doing his thing, but only one of those clubs had to alter its game plan to do it. Again, advantage, Barça as it just had to do what it does: pass, move, pass, move, probe, score. As long as that kept happening, Falcao wouldn’t see the ball, and all would be well. Atletico, on the other hand, had to blanket Messi with a cadre of defenders, a tactic that as legs got heavy, was bound to create an imbalance somewhere else on the pitch.

Even as this recipe for victory seems so easy, let’s be frank here, and admit that this club has won nothing. Its play makes us giddy, it is still unbeaten in La Liga, extending its stretch of excellence with every win. But it still has won nothing. Yes, FC Barcelona sits 9 points ahead of its second-place rival, and 13 ahead of its bitterest rival, in third place. But Xavi says it best:

“We’re not stupid, this is looking very good. But we have to be careful, this isn’t over at all. We can’t make mistakes.”

This was yet another Statement Match, in a season in which there have been many. Each and every week, Tito Vilanova’s side has faced the talks of “Well, they beat so and so, but this new opponent has all the tools to do Barça damage. This will be a difficult test.” And some of them have been, even as the club has sailed through every one. Atletico was the next one, a team on exceptional form, a team showing signs that it isn’t going to collapse like the other Atletico sides that flattered to deceive, a side possessed of the best striker in the game right now on form, surrounded by a cadre of quality. They are brilliant on the counter, disciplined defensively and do everything that it takes to beat a club like ours.

The early signs came when Falcao snapped a glancing header that, remarkably, smacked the inside of the post and caromed out. Then he had another great scoring chance that Valdes, making himself big, forced him to push wide. And then it happened, the thing that convinced me that we were going to win this match:

In the 20th minute, their game plan reached its apogee when pressure forced a turnover from Messi, which sprung Falcao loose on the break. He took an absolutely divine touch, outran everybody and their mamas and scooped an absolute peach of a shot over a helpless Valdes. Cules everywhere said “Uh, oh,” but I kinda relaxed, and here’s why:

They have one player who, in a moment of individual brilliance, can change a match. We had, on the pitch, nine such players. And with all of the possession they were allowing, it was only a matter of time before one of them did what they do.

Last season, you could give Guardiola’s Barça the ball, like a plaything with which to amuse a child. They would pass it around, make wondrous things with it, but you would mostly be okay as long as you retained your shape and didn’t do anything silly. Give Vilanova’s Barça the ball, and it will kill you, because it is impatient. It shoots from distance, it rushes the box, it eschews the magic of tika-taka for one dude saying to the others, “Watch this!” And the longer Vilanova’s Barça has the ball, the more likely it will kill you with a moment of magic.

Falcao had to score a perfect goal to beat our defense and our keeper, off a turnover from our best player. How often is that going to happen during a match? So he scored, and I sat back in my chair and waited. I expected to have to tarry a bit longer in anticipation of what was to come, but I guess that Adriano is twitchy. He took a pass, made a run toward the center that nobody on the defense appeared to mind very much, because it’s that other right back, you know, the one who is usually a left back, and a substitute left back at that.

And that run created enough space to make Adriano think, “Hey, I bet I could …. ” and KA-BOOM! Just like that, it was 1-1, thanks to a howitzer of a golazo that, rather than smacking the crossbar and bounding out as Falcao’s did, struck the crossbar with such velocity that it caromed down and into the goal. And that was how Kxevin fell off his barstool. It was also how the match completely changed.

At 1-1, that Atletico game plan was still looking pretty good, and they were playing their hearts out, like a side that was still in the match. They were still dangerous on the counter, things were still in their favor, except for that old demon, fatigue. You could see Iniesta getting farther and farther into the box, corners coming fast and furious, near-misses and saves by their gangly villain of a keeper becoming commonplace rather than rare. And then, it happened again:

A goal-mouth scramble off of a corner, of all things, the set pieces at which the sprites are supposed to be ineffectual, found the ball falling directly to the feet of Busquets. My Man of the Match by a country mile waited …. and waited …. and waited for what seemed to be an eternity, a time span sufficient to allow every cule voice in the known universe to erupt in simultaneous shriek, “Shooooottttt!” But Busquets knew what he was doing.

“Goal? I saw players coming, knew they’d throw themselves, so controlled the ball and waited for them to pass by. Worked out fine”

It was 2-1 at the half, a half in which Atletico played about as well as they could in a fine match of football. No real errors, no real breakdowns of the tactical plan. But like the Mutant in the finale of Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy, aberrations can mess up equations.

The second half began and it was more of the same, only it wasn’t. Atletico’s confidence appeared a bit shaken. Suddenly, they weren’t at all dangerous as Barça simply played its game. Pass and move, pass and move, steal the ball back, pass and move, as, in this case on this day, a preparation for more individual brilliance. Alexis Sanchez made a wonderful, space-clearing run that apparently got him so excited, 99% lived up to his name by spanking a stinker of a pass over to Messi. Because the defense was shifted and a little tired, Messi got enough space to control the ball (somehow), dart to his left and smoke a low, hard shot past a diving Courtois.

Two moments of unfathomable brilliance, one of luck and its 3-1. It was particularly cruel because Athletico did everything right, did everything according to their plan and it didn’t matter. It’s why even as I say that this club hasn’t won anything, I feel like a dunderhead for predicting that it wouldn’t. Because it is too damned good not to. The statistics say that no team with at least a 9-point lead in December has ever lost La Liga. “But it could happen,” say cules, because that is what we do.

But this club, as it stands, is the best club in the world. Atletico is a hell of a footballing side, that was made to look ordinary. They got the ball, we took it back. They got it again, strung a few passes together, we took it back, pressing, probing, looking to put the knife into a team that looked shell-shocked after that second goal, and Vilanova’s charges knew it. So the match was effectively over because there is no answer for individual quality, combined with luck and hard work. Again, the game is cruel.

How hard? In the 80th minute, up 3-1, Puyol runs like a man possessed to keep a stray pass from going out for a throw. Yes, it was 3-1, but Puyol would have said, like any good cule, “You never know, though! Pay attention!”

But also, Atletico had no answer for our Plan B, which is simply to do what we do even better. The passes became even more difficult for them to complete, counterattacks rarer because we didn’t concede possession and essentially, the only thing left to wonder was whether Messi would continue his streak of scoring in multiples.

We got the answer in the 88th minute as he slid neatly between two Atletico defenders who dallied too long with the ball, took it and chipped the keeper in a sequence of movements so rapid that it almost seemed like one motion, as lovely as it was cruel. And it was 4-1. Game. Set. Match. You want to know how hungry this club is? It’s best player was pressing in the 90th minute of a 3-1 home match. The Atletico defenders aren’t thinking about this, because it doesn’t happen.

Atletico will say that they played better than that scoreline, and they will be right. They will say they didn’t deserve that scoreline, and Vilanova might cop a line used by Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny in “Unforgiven,” before he dispatched the evil sheriff: “Deserves got nuthin’ to do with it,”

Atletico will watch the match video, and they will see that Pedro was worthless, Sanchez was undecided and mostly ineffectual, Messi never did catch that bus he was waiting for, so he decided to score a couple of goals. They will see that Barça has two of the slowest center backs a great team has ever had. They will see all of this.

But they will also see an on-form Pique, a leonine Puyol, an omnipresent Busquets, a rampaging Adriano whose performance this season might have hung a “for sale” sign on Dani Alves, a scampering Alba, a defense that does what it does best: keep the play in front of it, and always be between its keeper and the attacker so if it gets past that damned octopus in midfield it can do its work, which is to require an opponent to be perfect to score a goal.

And Vilanova’s Barça rolls on. I, in my role of half-assed “authority” get asked by people if I am worried that Messi scores so many of the team’s goals, and I always struggle with the answer to that question, until today, until now.

No. Because his goals aren’t coming as a consequence of him demanding the ball, of people feeding him first, of his play being so dominant that it forces the club to play in a different manner. Except for his two goals, the club didn’t really have Messi, even as it had his defense-shifting presence. Messi’s goals come as a consequence of how the club plays, and his roving role in that talented Hydra that is FC Barcelona.

Then I got to wondering why this club, which is essentially the same, is better. Seemingly, so much better. Well, some of it is that its major competitors have fallen off a tad. RM, Chelsea, United, aren’t the sides they were last season, even as Barça has gotten a little bit better for a couple of reasons:

–Ruthlessness. It’s been noted before, and is worth noting again. This club is hungry, and wants to eat you alive.
–True width. Now that the left side of the pitch is open for business in the person of Jordi Alba, it’s impossible to know from where a marauding sprite will appear.

Mental attitude, and tactics. It seems so simple to describe, yet as you watch yet another quality opponent fall prey to this club, you realize that it is simple. Player/pass/run/goal/win. But just as form follows function, Vilanova’s Barça might not be the aesthete’s bon-bon that Guardiola’s Barça was, but it is no less beautiful.

“I love you, man!” “No, I love YOU more!”

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. i am so so happy for busi and adriano!! massive presence from both of them throughout the game. with busi’s goal, i’m really hoping for a MascheGOL next year 🙂

    as usual, great post-match presser from tito — no mincing words about villa and having to make tough decisions, praising players but also recognizing their limits

  2. Great review! I enjoyed the hell out of this game. Props to Atleti for coming out to play. Their first half was tremendous, and if they were luckier they could have had at least one more goal.

    You can criticize individual players in this game, but no one can deny that after Atleti’s goal, Barça buckled down and put in one of the best team performances we have seen this season. No, it was not particularly beautiful, but Barça has a hunger to win that cannot be denied. Especially knowing they could increase the gap over RM to 13 points.

    Busquets was brilliant, but honours should also go to Adriano and Pique.

  3. That review came up quickly!

    What a game! Most important win in La Liga? Definitely.

    I suppose its a luxury that we have an RB who can cut in and shoot a cannon of a shot with his LEFT foot.

    Finally public perception is changing with regards to Busi. Hey, if a players has won every trophy there is, he must’ve something going for him. Talk about versatility, he scored his goal like a true CF, that pause to make space and time out of nowhere, and then slotting it in the top corner.

    Atletico did a wonderful job of keeping Messi quiet. Its tough to play your game with so many players bearing down on you. Messi still scored twice. C’est la vie.

    Yes, Alexis can blow hot and cold from time to time. I for one am thankful for all his positive contributions. He’s young, given enough time, he’ll stop being effective in parts and might even learn to stay on his feet for more than a couple of moments.

    Pedro needs to score. Desperately.

    Feels nice to have fit CBs eh?

    One simply can believe the results uptil now. One reason might be that the players given it all over and over again. It started from that CdR final, which leads me to believe that it had something to do with Pep not renewing. Maybe the players feel a bit guilty? Maybe they felt that Pep wouldn’t have left if they had put some more effort. I dont know. But they certainly arent leaving anything to chance now. Bodes well for Tito.

    What’s that you say? Only 1 game left in the calendar year? What am I gonna do after the 22nd?

    1. Why all of this stuff about Pedro and Alexis needing to score. Goals from them are a bonus. What is really important is that they did their jobs, recycling the ball quickly and pressing hard. Nobody here bothers to count the number of times both of them won back the ball by pressuring an opponent and forcing a hurried disposal, but it happens all game. It allows Messi to become an almost exclusively offensive weapon (which some people interpret as him being disinterested.)
      And please don’t keep repeating the guff from Gerry Armstrong that Alexis goes down to easily. The man is a fool.

    2. I agree with your points about Alexis & Pedro doing the dirty work. They do it so well and so effectively that Messi doesn’t need to. It’s for the betterment of our team. If they score, well that’s a bonus. Although, I definitely wanted Alexis to just shoot the ball in the 1st 5-10 minutes when he had a great angle and decided to pass it to Alba who was making a run forward from behind him. It would’ve at least made Atleti respect his position and opened up space earlier for the middle. I will also argue that Alexis DOES still go down way to easy. It’s rather sad to me. He’s looking for a call every time there’s contact. Get on with it and play the game.

    3. The problem with Pedro and Alexis is that they have not been scoring when having the chances to do so.

      Everybody understands that if you’re hugging the touch line all the time, you’re not going to be very often in a position the score. But when you have a chance, you should be able to convert it. And that’s where, Pedro especially has been disappointing this season (Alexis hasn’t had that many chances).

  4. Are we calling them Athletico just to annoy them? Just to annoy me? 😀

    Thanks for the speedy review kxevin!

    1. All fixed. And there I was, proud of myself for having caught my attribution for the author of the “Foundation” trilogy as Hari Seldon, rather than Isaac Asimov.

    2. I’m more proud of you for somehow throwing in a William Munny quote! ” They will say they didn’t deserve that scoreline, and Vilanova might cop a line used by Clint Eastwood’s character William Munny in “Unforgiven,” before he dispatched the evil sheriff: “Deserves got nuthin’ to do with it,” – one of my favorite lines you’ve ever written. One of my favorite westerns of all time along with The Searchers, The Magnificent Seven, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and The Wild Bunch. Great review on such short notice! Hope the knee feels better. 🙂

  5. That goal sums up Busi…

    He is always thinking..before any pass he makes, before any tackle there is a always a plan in his mind. He like Xavi, runs the scenario in his mind. Del Bosque, Pep and Xavi were not just praising Busi without any reason. 9/10 players would have just shot without thinking..The calmness is just a tense situation in such a congested space when everyone were scrambling for the ball, was just unbelievable. Even a seasoned forward would have slashed at it. Wow. We have been used to Messi/Iniesta’s skill and Puyol’s courage. Sometimes, people like Busi (n Xavi) remind me that football is not just all-brawn-no-brain game..

    One of the few players whose thinking exceeds his skill…

    1. So true. I was marveling at his genius after that goal and the replays. I wish he were a bit nimbler and faster because he’d be a direct replacement for Xavi. I just don’t know if he has the speed to untangle a double team as often as Xavi can. Don’t get me wrong. He does it frequently and can do it with the sublime skill of the best of them, but Xavi has that bit of pace you need to move forward quickly and the pace that helps get you out of trouble.

    2. I agree with you on being a bit more faster. But am hoping with age, he acquires that. For his age, his thinking is incredible..

  6. How did you come up so quickly with these reviews? Amazing…

    I guess the ratings really ate like 5x more times of your time when doing reviews.

    1. Exactly. It was watching the match 2+ times, pages of notes, slo-mos, frame-by-frames, etc, etc, in an effort to capture things accurately for my evaluative needs. Life is no longer cooperating with that kind of dedication. Now, I allot an hour to say what I need to say. Bang. Done. Print it and let’s move on.

    2. Thank you very much for all the hard work you put in before. And good luck on your race. You started the preparations in November right? So I assume it’s in December or January?

  7. This game was very good, especially in the first half when it was end to end stuff (so much for la liga is boring eh). Glad to see other team-mates step up as Messi was a little too well guarded in the begining. Busi was well rewarded with that goal for all his hard work ;). Second half was just Barca being Barca, well done.

    Just wish Lexus would stay on his feet a bit more. He falls over more than Bojan and Pedro just needs to score. Villa, poor Villa. His ego was shot and when he came on, he wasn’t exactly raring to go was he? I’m sure he’ll win us important points later on in the season. Also, what was with Puyi’s shorts? It’s either they were cut or torn on both sides, he he.

    1. Villa had his chance when he was put through on goal and his 1st touch let him down badly. Much like it did in the CDR game earlier in the week. I think he’s over thinking and wanting to get a goal now so badly that he’s trying to move before the ball is settled. Much like a receiver does when he sees someone coming or a wide open play. They move before the ball is there. Let the ball arrive 1st, then move.

  8. David Villa… is he now all but gone?.. Note the crowd chanting for him to stay – I hope he does, and I really understand how difficult it is to change a winning (see god-like) team and starting 11, but I really want him to get some minutes; if not to keep him hungry but also match hardened for the run home. Still a long season and his quality is not to be wasted on Pine…

    1. I read an interesting comment on /r/barca. Apparently Tito said that the reason Villa didnt start was that Sanchez and Pedro track back and defend a lot more and Villa is not at 100% fitness yet and would be a lot more effetive as a supersub. The season is long and Villa will be fresh and hungry.

      Remember Villa is our second top-scorer so far this season. I think it is too soon to write him off.
      I think we also cannot underestimate the value of his experience that he brings to a very young front line. Messi is the second oldest. I think his value is far beyond just his goals.

      Conclusion: Dont worry, the season is long and his time will come.

    2. Unfortunately for Villa, Barca already have a luxury player (Messi) who runs about 2 Ks less than everybody else. That’s why you need players like Alexis and Pedro to make up for Messi’s reduced work rate. In that system there is no room for Villa and he should move elsewhere. I’m afraid that’s the Darwinian reality of football.

    3. I get what your saying, but I’m not so sure it’s as clear as that. Yes, Messi is given free role to do as he pleases, so he wont put the milage down like a Alves/Alba etc would…but Villa has tremendous worth still (we are thin on a out and out striker really) and he can still play on the wings if needed.

      IMO He should be given more of a shot over Pedro and Sanchez (especially as it stands currently with both not producing end products).

      I understand the system and I know its hard to change a winning side, but I cant in good grace accept Villa is being just shut out like that.

  9. Most important moment of this match: Puyol charging to keep that ball from Valdes from going out for a throw-in. Amazing commitment and energy. Puyol is not only the symbol of Barca but a role model for everyone.

    Also, Kxevin, you say we only have 9 players that will destroy teams. Who are you leaving out? Valdes and Pedro?

  10. Also wanted to say, is it not time to sell Alves to cash in on his value? He is nearly 30 if he isnt already and PSG were willing to fork out a packet for him. He appears to have begun his decline and we have montoya and adriano to fill in? This is probably the last season we could get a lot for him, although I will bet his value has already dropped a lot just this season already.

  11. Kxevin might be a biased idiot but damn If He doesn’t write some great reviews! :p

    Obviously kidding about the biased idiot part – I think you’re the Xavi of barcelonafootballblog. Also, wasn’t Foundation a series of seven books if I remember correctly?

    1. The core of the trilogy was the famous three. The literary snob in me doesn’t rate the ones Asimov wrote later, in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the core series, which was written between 1950-53.

    2. I have to disagrees about Kevin being the Xavi of the blog. I’ve said many times before he’s the Messi hands down. So many times he’s carried the blog. NZM is the Iniesta.

  12. ‘it’s impossible to know from where a marauding sprite will appear’

    Thats just brilliant Kxevin, hats of!

    1. I DO! The Catalan colors for our away kits!!! That would be amazing! Also love the white neck line and smaller stripes like older school kits. Those are SOOOO much better than this years. I would be so tempted to buy one, but it still has Qatar on it, so can’t bring myself to do it. Maybe I could buy one and have the Qatar removed from it? I wonder if that’s possible without having the letter area still showing on the jersey or having it ruined.

  13. How does the members of the club feels having Qatar Airways logo on the shirt. Last season Rossell said it was Qatar Foundation, hence it’s OK. Now he is saying since Qatar Airways is not a betting company, it’s fine.

    Rosell came with a promise of maintaining the Catalan identity. I don’t know much about that. For an outsider, this club is slowly looking like arm of Qatari Royal Family.

  14. Fantastic words from Tito about how, at half time he tried to calm down his players and get them to play happy. No wonder he is doing so we’ll. He tries to get his players to enjoy themselves, unlike Mou who seems to torture his players.

  15. All I will say about this game is that it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed watching us play as much as I did yesterday. Super game.

    Oh, one more thing, I rewatched the game last night. Messi wasn’t quite as bad as everyone was saying, especially in the second half (that giveaway for their goal was pretty awful, though). He was being marked pretty well. At one point in the first half, Iniesta (I believe) passed him the ball while he was triple covered. I yelled at the TV (they do hear us when we do that, right?), “If he has 3 men guarding him, someone is open! Find him!” In the second half he and Iniesta looked they were having fun tiki taka-ing on the left side. Darn, but I really enjoyed that second half!

  16. This season so far has had an almost unreal feeling to it.

    It’s not even the absolute level of quality-the team always had that capability. It’s the consistency of that quality in the face of tremendous adversity.

    Last season – particularly at the end of last season- this Barca team simply looked exhausted. The accumulated fatigue & injuries had just worn them out.

    The injuries that they’ve absorbed this first half of the season have been ridiculous. We had to deputize Adriano to play CB vs Madrid. And the team still didn’t lose. On some level it’s almost ridiculous.

    But that’s just how good this squad has been on form. The system is so strong – so robust – that it can withstand one blow after another and stay intact at a remarkable level.

    In line with that – I really though Sanchez & Pedro played well yesterday. The amount of work they did-Pedro in particular due to the tactical shift of axis that occurred in the game to the L – was just so impressive.

    Sanchez’s movement was excellent-thought he grew into the game very well and really stepped up in influence when the team started to play more and more along the L axis. He was also dynamite in the transition phase.

    On Messi- I’m really not sure what some expect from him. ATM had 4 defenders marking Messi at all times. In addition those 4 defenders were supported by two other defenders indirectly to make sure Messi wouldn’t break containment. On top of that ATM were so compact those 4 defenders formed a cage around Messi at all times.

    When a player is defended like that – even Messi-it’s just going to be difficult to get touches on the ball. And forcing in to him isn’t a great idea. That’s why Messi had limited influence to open – why he kept trying to move out wide right in the first 20min or so to find space.

    Xavi faced something analgous and had to drop deeper to play in front of the defenders in order to find space and influence. But those adjustments take time.

    If Messi’s being maredk 1 v 4 or 1 v 5 – even when he doesn’t have the ball – that leaves the rest of Barca’s attack 9 vs 6 or 9 v 5. That’s an enormous advantage generated around the rest of the pitch. And that’s where the thrust of play needs to be directed. That’s the way to crack open the middle and build space for Messi.

    And that’s exactly what Adriano did and what the L axis orientation did tactically after Tito saw what was going on and made needed changes.

    1. Vs the kind of compact block Atleti played – the key to opening space for Iniesta on the L is to have a player in front of him working the L channel.

      Sanchez is Barca’s best player working those channels. Pedro is great wide -outside of the full backs. He’s particularly good when Barca need to have 1 player man much of that space himself (as they’ve often needed to do this season).

      But in the channel Sanchez is a better choice to facilitate Iniesta’s game. His strength, pace and ability to hold up play with his back to goal vs 2 defenders are better suited for that role than Pedro.

    2. But if you look at last match, there was a phase before the Adriano goal and after the adriano goal. Before that goal I felt that Sanchez was failing miserably to open up space for Iniesta. After that goal I agree that he did a good job of creating space.

    3. Before Adriano’s goal, Atleti was also more compact and tight in their defence because they were a goal up and were still fresh. They played incredibly well for the first 30 minutes.

      After the goal, and later into the game, tired, heavy Atleti legs could no longer maintain the required compactness and that’s when Barca put in the screws.

  17. Guess who said this;

    “He produces more braces than an orthodontist!”

    Only the one and only Ray Hudson can come up with this!! 🙂

    Melendi (Spanish Pop singer) “I once said that Messi gives me joy more than my wife, and you do not want to see what happened next; she left home and still didn’t come back”

    I’ve never heard of him but he is funny as hell! That said I do hope his wife will come back to him.

  18. Thank goodness I had to answer the call of nature at 5am cause my alarm didn’t go off (or I just didn’t hear it even though it was right beside me).

    Messi was sleepwalking. He shouldn’t have played the full match last week.

    Do you guys see any resemblance between the season where Mourinho got fired at Chelsea and the current situation?

  19. Puyol: “We’re playing well, are confident, have some luck too. But we can’t relax now, Madrid never gives up.”

    It is quite unfair how Puyol overlooked Atletico. Even though we all know that he is right that EE is the one that can catch up to us but he shouldn’t make it look like Atletico isn’t there. They are in the 2nd place after all.

    1. thats not an exact quote. as with so much else, quotes get mashed up and paraphrased. additionally, he was responding to a question specifically about real madrid, which is why he mentioned them. 99% of his comments were really about barca and what we have to do (no bajar los brazos!), and not about ATM or RM.


  20. Barca’s starting RW & LW had 103 touches on the ball vs ATM.

    Barca’s starting R FB & L FB had 236 touches on the ball vs ATM.

    Let’s throw Messi in there to take a look at the whole front line. And Pedro/Alexis came off early. Let’s put the subs in the equation as well.

    Barca’s entire front line yesterday had 193 touches. (and that includes 18 from Thiago who played more as a midfielder)

    Just think about that. Barca’s 2 FBs had around 20% more touches than all 5 players who played on the front line put together.

    That really tells you how Atleti were defending deep and which players on Barca had time/space on ball conceded to them in order for Atleti to overplay the middle. It also gives a sense for how Tito wanted to approach breaking down Atleti’s defensive block.

    1. I too think that Alexis had a good game yesterday.

      Watch Messi’s first goal (which was another assist from Alexis to Messi and makes it about 6 between them so far?) after Alexis passes him the ball and the #9 continues to run out wide which drew out 2 Atleti defenders. It created enough space for Messi to turn and run parallel to the goal and by the time those 2 wide defenders realised what was going on, it was too late. Awesome teamwork.

      I also need to see the action (in slo-mo) before Busi’s goal to see if Alexis assisted that. Someone kicked the ball between Puyol’s legs out to Busi, and it may have been Alexis because he was in there hustling for the ball beside Puyol.

  21. Now let’s imagine Tito’s Barça if Pedro and Alexis were better. Where Alexis passed the ball forward more, where Pedro showed up. UCL will be their time to shine.

    1. Both Sanchez and Pedro were very good yesterday. Even more impressive when I watched the match carefully the second time.

      Their effort, movement, position and intelligence were outstanding. They just add so much to the collective. Those two positions-RW & LW have become in many ways the motors of the system.

      The amount of dogged work that’s required from those two spots is honestly ridiculous. It’s a huge credit to them both that they are willing to put their egos away to such a degree and contribute to the whole machine.

      Not to say they can’t play better. Both are suffering from lack of confidence in front of goal. Just thought both were very good yesterday. Cesc is a good model for that-how Sanchez & Pedro can balance collective work rate contribution to the whole with individual production (though Sanchez is now up to 5 assists I believe despite missing so many matches with injury).

      When Iniesta plays on the LW much of the effort & work that goes away when Sanchez comes off is absorbed by Cesc in his role as a CAM. I do think it’s more of a challenge though to contribute to the attack from those wide positions rather than CAM. But that’s a promising way to balance competing demands.

    2. For me, Sanchez was erratic, ranging from excellent to “What?” As noted above, I didn’t think much of Pedro’s match. He spent too much time in “wrong place, wrong time” mode. And I know his first touch used to be better than it was. It strikes me that he is really, really pressing, almost overthinking things. If you go back to “scoring in every competition” Pedro, he was dynamic and his play was almost reflex, so instinctive did it seem to be.

      It must be noted that it was also a time when Messi wasn’t yet MESSI, which has something to do with the freedom of his movement, in that tactical width wasn’t as critical as it is now to keep opponents from just standing in the center of pitch with their arms locked.

      On the defensive end and in terms of work rate, it’s clear why Pedro starts, even as his offense is in the crapper. Even an off-form Pedro is better in those regards than Villa, whom the Camp Nou crowd seems to have adopted as they would a puppy.

      Maybe I would have thought more of Pedro’s match had I done my usual review routine. Dunno. Sanchez was much closer to “right” than Pedro was, for me.

    3. I don’t know. I must be nodding off during matches and missing all these good bits from Alexis. Someone like to point me towards a bit of action from him that was worth €35m ?

      Ok, just to even out some of the over the top descriptions of his play –

      He can’t beat a man, he can’t shoot or score goals, he can’t stay on his feet after the simplest of challenges and doesn’t seem to have quick enough feet to avoid these tackles as Iniesta, Xavi, Messi, Pedro, Villa, Busi all have – have we paid that much for someone who can run all day, pass backwards and dive relentlessly embarrassing us? Btw, fwiw I thought it was a pretty poor ball from him for Messi’s goal as it was behind him and he had to stop to collect it. Likewise, he had nothing to do with our second as he was merely caught facing away from the goal as it came past him.

      Am I over -egging the pudding here? Yeah, but come on . The guy hasn’t even begun to live up to any kind of price tag yet. No wonder Villa looked fed up when he came on! Actually, I thought his attitude was poor and I’m a big supporter.

    4. He was 26 million + 11 in variables.

      Watch him again, Jim – his movement off the ball is what gave Messi the space for his first goal.

      And he was involved in some way for the 2nd – he was hustling in the pile of players in front of the goal, beside Puyol. Forced the error which spilled the ball to Busquets.

      I do wish that he would stay on his feet though, but he was genuinely clipped a couple of times. I’m just surprised that the coaching team hasn’t talked to him about that tactic of his.

    5. Then the club must also be wasting its money on Tito, because Tito keeps picking Alexis and doesn’t look like selling him. If you’re right, Tito must be a fool.
      P.S. When you say Alexis dives relentlessly (an exaggeration for rhetorical effect?) are you taking your cue from Gerry Armstrong? If so, there is nothing more that needs to be said. Whenever he’s commentating I just turn off the sounds and listen to music.

    6. Reply to the above. Nzm, just re watched it and what I’m seeing is him picking up a ball, moving neatly inside the full back but if you pause it there they have been caught for once with only one man marking Messi. Tbh, they’re doomed if Messi gets the ball at all in that position. Alexis plays it behind Messi so he has to half turn back. Alexis keeps on his run into the box which is fine and he takes his man with him but no more than that. A decent ball and that defender isn’t part of the play anyway.

      With regard to Tito, Kevino17, I’m not sure where you get if I think a manager is making a mistake picking someone that makes him a fool. I don’t think Guardiola was a fool at all in playing Masch over Pique last season but I do think he was wrong and may have cost us at least one trophy.

      I’m also not sure why you cite Gerry Armstrong. Have I said I rate his views? You then go on to assume that your unfounded assumption is correct and use that to dismiss my opinion? I’ve already said I was over egging the pudding which suggests that I was putting the case slightly more strongly than maybe I think is warranted in the interests of balancing some of the more euphoric views of his performance and if you can point me to any passage of play from alexis in the last year where he looked like a €37m player I’ll be happy to revise my opinion. Until then, them’s mah thoughts 🙂

  22. Other than his scoring drought, Pedro has been excellent to me. He is starting so many matches because he is a very good attacker who picks the right time and run, know when to go with the ball and when to keep it. Defensive work is a must for any attacker, Pedro works particularly hard, that’s a plus, but mainly he starts because he is the better player than the others.

    Pedro’s play compliment Messi’s on-off mode so well because Pedro looks hungry and eager in almost every ball he receives that defenders can’t ignore him. It’s an attention game. Pedro is making a very loud presence on the pitch so that Messi can go subdue and hide his presence, which is what I call off mode. This can avoid tight man-marking on Messi for the entire match. Pedro draws the attention and distract defenders in so many ways, though I’d like to see better crossings from him, he is still doing a good job.

    Messi score so many goals without you even notice he is being great. He just needs to hide until THAT moment he decides to turn it on and score in the best possible chance. This conserves so much energy and protect our best player in history from overloading.

    Pep sort of used Tello to change games last season. A wing that draws defense to shift. Create room for Messi. Pedro’s presence this season is so consistent that no team can really ignore. Topple with this uprising Adriano shooting from all directions. Perfect combo.

    1. Well said. Pedro is one of our hardest working player, Puyol-esque. Great attitude, the kind a coach or employee thank the heavens for.

  23. Adriano

    Are we witnessing another player upgrade in our club? He has progressed so much even as a full grown player transferred from Sevilla. Our system improves players but Adriano’s progress is really astonishing. Now let’s be a little less injury prone.

    1. Apparently the club is so impressed that they have begun the process to move Adriano to a higher payscale.

    2. Yep. Saw that on Twitter and other places. Damn right the club is, and it should. Nice reward for a player having a breakout season, courtesy of Dani Alves. Because if Alves were the player he was when he arrived, Adriano would still be the Swiss Army knife of a fullback.

      But I will also argue against myself and say that for Vilanova’s desires much of the time, Adriano is a preferable option. Alves, even as he has scored goals from distance and similar goals, would NEVER have scored that goal yesterday. That was a speed and power goal. Alves would have also looked for Messi. Adriano, at the moment of his strike, if you’d asked him where Messi was he would have said, “Dunno. Didn’t care.” Sometimes you need that.

    3. Not looking for the obvious goal-scorers to pass to is one reason why I would have liked to have seen Adriano start as a winger instead of Pedro in the Atleti match.

      He’s not hesitant about taking the shot for himself and, from long range, if he’s on-target he has the op to score the goal or someone else could from a potential rebound. Both Alexis and Messi were following that ball in. It was good to see.

      But then, Adriano was able to do all this from a RB position which meant that Pedro had a hand in helping him to find more space. That was also good!

      The more that I analyse the games this season, the more admiring I become of Tito’s tactics. The man knows his stuff, and knows how to play the players to get the best out of them to achieve the best results in each game. This is why his fielding a different team each week has worked – the man really does his homework and isn’t emotion-driven in his decision-making.

    4. Adriano can’t do a Pedro, not yet. Pedro’s work is still very needed to create space. His much improved dribbling and faking techniques help the offense a lot.

  24. via @barcastuff:

    “Mourinho’s agent talked to Man Utd, City, Chelsea, PSG, and Inter. Except Inter, they all said they’re waiting on decision Guardiola. [pais]”

    Ha! Imagine if it true!..
    Mou: “I, the conqueror of all the important leagues on this puny earth, with the adventurous soul of a Portuguese navigator have come to thee, if you would gratefully accept my services. Even though I am above you all, the Special/Only One, I shall consider your offerings if they are worthy enough ”

    Voice: “Err…we all are waiting for the Mister Pep to nod his humble head…”

    Mou: “#%$#%^&*&*..”

  25. I don’t know. I must be nodding off during matches and missing all these good bits from Alexis. Someone like to point me towards a bit of action from him that was worth €35m ?

    Regarding the match – I’ve watched it twice very closely and I don’t agree with your analysis. I’d guess that the difference is how closely one takes into account the restricted nature of Sanchez’s role inside of the system.

    What defines a successful match for a player? I personally think it’s how closely a player fills his role in the collective. Not whether he meets some general requirements for his “position.”

    It’s interesting that in your comment you don’t make mention of Pedro – a player I believe you rate highly IIRC.

    What’s your explanation for Pedro’s complete lack of goal scoring production? He’s not even producing assists at the level Sanchez is this season.

    Do you really think it’s simply a coincidence that both Pedro and Sanchez (and before them Villa when he was a starter) are simply not scoring?

    Pedro and Villa stopped scoring at the end of 2010. The second half of that season – until the the CL finals they hardly scored at all.

    Last year was a near zero from both of them in terms of scoring. Even before Villa broke his leg he wasn’t effective scoring or creating goal chances.

    Is this all a coincidence?

    Seems very unlikely. There’s a systems level issue that’s rooting this. The wide attackers in the base 4-3-3 are being required to play extremely narrow roles where their primary function is to contribute to the collective.

    The only player who is given freedom wide is Iniesta when he’s out there. Interestingly, in the past when Iniesta has been fielded on the LW and been asked to retain even moderate tactical width he’s been “ineffective.” Iniesta is effective now at the LW because Cesc in turn does so much of that work for the collective (a pt I addressed in my prior comments).

    Sanchez, Pedro, Villa, Iniesta. It’s not some accident that all of them have struggled doing the explicit things most people expect a “winger” or an attacker to do.

    It’s the role first and foremost. And this is most stark & clear with the example of Pedro. Pedro has gone from a player widely considered a born “natural” finisher lethal in front of goal to a player who simply can’t score at all.

    That’s the system. Pedro is still playing extremely well this season. He’s contributing to the collective in an outstanding fashion.

    The team is off to the best start in Liga history – and doing so in the face of absurd injuries.

    How is that level of performance possible if these dead weight players keep getting minutes?

    Competition for playing time on this squad is ridiculous.

    If Sanchez and Pedro aren’t contributing significantly to the team winning then what your saying is that Tito is clueless. If it’s so obvious that Sanchez is of such little value then Tito would literally have to have a significant misunderstanding of the game to play him.

    Indeed, Pep made many of these same decisions last season in playing Sanchez. Pep also said that one of his regrets was not sticking with Pedro last year when he was off form. Was he misguided as well?

    Sanchez definitely needs to get better. He still hasn’t fulfilled his potential. But despite that he’s contributing in important ways. Same for Pedro. Tito isn’t handing out playing time in key matches out of charity.

    Sanchez used to play as a trequarista with complete freedom on the ball. Vs ATM Tito finally settled on a system that required him to work the L channel and occupy two very good defenders in order to create space for Messi.

    Either you find a player who is capable & willing to do that work or you ask Messi to beat a box of 4 defenders that is constantly surrounding him and being supported by two other defenders. Which doesn’t sound like much of a plan to me.

    Now if you want to say that type of contribution isn’t worth 26M+11 in variables-that’s a separate issue. Sanchez had no control over what Barca valued him at. He had no control over the fact that he was being priced as a trequarista (and considered by many to be one of the 2-3 best players in Serie A) and then winds up on a team that asks him to put his ego aside, pair down his game for the collective and quite honestly use his physical gifts to do donkey’s work to make Messi’s life easier.

    That seems like an exceedingly harsh way to judge a player, however. The way a player from La Masia would never be judged.

    I don’t mean to single out your comment. It’s just one that is voiced so often and by so many I wanted to address the subject one the whole.

    1. I’m somewhere between Euler and Jim. I can see glimpses of the Sanchez that I thought we paid for, the fast, dynamic player who is smart with the ball and is a constant threat. But for me, it’s no secret that his 99% nickname is because then, right at the end ….

      I don’t know that Sanchez or Pedro or Villa are asked to do the donkey work so that Messi can shine. And if they are I think that is in error, because at some point another Celtic is going to happen, maybe in the knockout stages of the Champions League. I think that because of the function of the system, they are limited and, in many ways, made to seem like our offense last season in front of a parked bus — that is, so amazed that a real opportunity comes that they rush it, or think to much and the moment is gone. It’s a limitation that Messi doesn’t have. In that way I think that they are also self limiting.

      Villa spent a lot of time on the left wing at Valencia, and does so for the Spanish NT. He was and is a different player than he is for Barça, where Messi is the engine, even if he isn’t demanding to be the engine. Villa gets chances. Pedro gets shots, and opportunities at goal. He just screws them up with a heavy touch, or hits the ball directly at the keeper. Same with Villa. Sanchez gets a ball in an excellent spot, then he stops, does a pirouette and by then a second defender is there, and he passes the ball out to Xavi or Iniesta, then runs around some more.

      There is tactical width, which Pedro and Sanchez provide, and their tracking back and overall effort is the real reason they play over Villa, as with those two we have our most solid side, defensively. But they are to blame for a lot of their futility as an attacking player, even as I think they aren’t completely a mess …. well, Pedro is right now. But Sanchez, I mostly like, right up until he does something that vexes the hell out of me.

      P.S. I liked Jim’s comment about Villa’s attitude. I sensed some of that as well, not enough to really comment on, but more than enough to make it very clear to me that if he doesn’t move in January, he will move in the summer. There is a renewal rumor floating about. If the club renews him, it will only be so that it can negotiate from a position of strength.

    2. That’s a fantastic post by Euler. And while I see Kxevin’s point about the poor finishing, I can’t help but wonder if that also points at the systemic issues. Cesc’s loss of finishing form last year came from a similar improvement in integration into the system. Does the Barça’s current system create a scenario where goalscorers start to press too much? The evidence sort of points to that.

    3. Fabregas’ diminution in finishing in the back half of last season came from poor decision making and a lack of fitness, which he and Vilanova alluded to in their discussions of last season. This season he is not only more confident in his role in the system, but in much better shape and thus able to take advantage of it.

      Goalscoring is a simple matter of confidence for many players. Right now, Pedro and Sanchez don’t. So they either fluff their lines with a bad touch, or make a poor decision with the shot. And that isn’t systemic. That’s on the player.

      Just in the Chelsea away leg alone, Fabregas missed two chances, and Pedro missed one great chance. Busquets also missed one. None of those are systemic. It’s just great players screwing the pooch.

    4. But they are to blame for a lot of their futility as an attacking player, even as I think they aren’t completely a mess …. well, Pedro is right now. But Sanchez, I mostly like, right up until he does something that vexes the hell out of me.

      I agree with much of this as well. As I said earlier-Sanchez hasn’t reached his potential-by a significant gap. He has the talent to be a top 20 player in the world – right now he’s not even close.

      I’m mostly responding to the general harsh criticism that gets made by many over and over that he’s almost a worthless, empty player because it’s not visible “what he does.”

      He is fulfilling a role-an important one. It’s not just to make Messi better (though that is a key part of it – and particularly important one vs ATM given their compact block.). He also creates space for Iniesta and a point of reference for Alba. The way he opens the channels allows all of those players to be better. That’s what he did vs ATM IMO.

      Now you always want a player to not simply fulfill a role but to exceed it -within the collective. It’s just really not easy to create that surplus value in that wide role in the system. Multiple players have struggled doing so – including Villa, Pedro and Iniesta.

      Criticizing Sanchez for his transfer fee also strikes me as particularly harsh. That’s a business decision Barca made. He didn’t demand that fee. It’s particularly unfortunate because Sanchez turned down a large sum of money in wages from both MCFC and Chelsea because his dream was to play at Barca. Isn’t that to be commended? We’re always criticizing player for being too individual. Too greedy. Here’s a player who did the exact opposite.

      Pedro also is also capable of more.We’ve seen it from him. But I can almost copy & paste my comments on Alexis for Pedro.

      Here’s an example – part of Pedro’s role vs ATM was to allow Adriano expressive freedom on the RW. Pedro is what allowed Adriano to often pinch or cut centrally without Barca risking getting beat on the counter.

      Just think about that. Here’s a player who was the first to score in all 6 major trophy competitions. A player who looked like a perennial 20 goal scorer. And then his manager tells him to sacrifice his game in order to give freedom to the player who was until very recently (and may still be) the backup RB.

      And Pedro does it. This is why the Barca collective is performing at this level. It’s one of the things that has distinguished Barca this season from RM.

      But I do think that both Sanchez & Pedro are being influenced by how narrow their roles are construed for the collective. It’s very clear both of them are pressing and overthinking their finishing. Something similar happened to Villa in that role. We see it now with Villa constantly being off side. Which speaks to how difficult producing surplus value past the role requirements are from that wide position.

    5. I’m not a tatics expert like you Euler but surely you can’t blame Pedro or Sanchez’s inability to score a goal when they’re in front of the goalkeeper on their “systemic” duties. What responsibility prevented Pedro from scoring from open play a match or two ago when it was just him and the GK? None. What responsibility prevented Sanchez from taking on his markers and shoot when the chance appeared? None. They score so few this season simply because they couldn’t take their chances, simple as that.

      I’m sure that Messi would be happy to have his fellow forwards be capable of not just defending and tracking back but also scoring too.

    6. I think debate about Pedro/Sanchez boils down to whether it is systemic or individual and frankly I think we all agree that its a bit of both.

      The point Euler seems to be making, and I agree with, is that even though their contribution might not be tangible it’s still significant and you cannot hate on them for being asked to play a reduced role to maximize the system.

      The fact that the system is restricting their overall skill set would probably be proved better if there are games where possession is fought for, and the game sees more transitional plays. That’s where Pedro and Sanchez might get into positions to utilize, practice and ultimately gain confidence in their offensive play.

    7. Euler – Flat-out brilliant post. No complaints, I see, from many about Barca paying 40 mill for Villa when he can’t make anything like the contribution that Alexis and Pedro make to the collective effort. If they want to talk about wasted money … I’m sure that if he was 27 right now and offered for 5 mill, Barca just wouldn’t take him, because he just doesn’t fit in. Messi is Barca’s luxury player and there is no room for another one.

    8. I have to say I was one of those guys that said you had to have more goal production out of your wingers but through the brilliant discussions on BFB I’ve come around to the notion that Pedro and Alexis are still productive while giving us width. Don’t get me wrong, Alexis and his diving has rubbed me the wrong way one too many times and it must stop. But in the meantime he and Pedro will play a crucial role in the remainder of the season, let’s just hope there are some goals to go with the minutes.

  26. I’m not a tatics expert like you Euler but surely you can’t blame Pedro or Sanchez’s inability to score a goal when they’re in front of the goalkeeper on their “systemic” duties.

    The issue of finishing is an interesting one and comes up quite a bit.

    And I agree that both aren’t finishing well. They are clearly pressing. And it’s also true that it’s very unclear how good a finisher Sanchez will turn out to be. It’s not his natural game.

    But consider this context. Messi is perhaps the greatest finisher in the history of the game. Messi converts rougly 25-30% of his chances. Last season he was around 26%. This season he’s at 30% or so.

    Falcao-who is an extraordinary finisher this season is converting at 30% – believe that’s the best of his career.

    For comparison C. Ronaldo converts at a 15% clip.

    That means that as great as Messi or Falcao are they need to take at around 3 shots to score one goal. That is what a historically great finishing is. C. Ronaldo needs to take 6-7 shots per to score.

    Sanchez and Pedro don’t get a chance to shoot much. Yesterday Sanchez and Pedro took 0 shots-together. Now you can say that part of that is their fault-and that’s true. They are both too “unselfish” or too reticent to take shots.

    That said-it’s difficult to see how Sanchez & Pedro can start getting at least 10 shots between them in a match.

    So part of what’s happening is that any chance they do get they are putting huge pressure on themselves and we hyper-focus and remember their misses.

    Again – just for context on how stringent the system impacts are on those two players. Sanchez and Pedro only had 103 touches on the ball yesterday together. That’s it. For comparison the FBs had 230 or so touches.

    Sanchez and Pedro are hardly touching the ball. Very difficult to score or finish with composure when you just don’t touch the ball much because your primary role has become to break the shape of a defense through movement & runs and provide solidity in the defensive transition phase.

    1. Euler Tito should give you a job, if you’re not Tito, of course (and if you are Tito, compliments on your English).

    2. Watching the match again, and it seems to me that Sanchez and Pedro aren’t touching the ball as much because of where it’s falling when Atleti’s defense ejects it. It goes to midfield or just outside our box, where Puyol or Pique feed it back into the mixer. As Pedro and Sanchez are always so forward, it seems a natural consequence that Alba and Adriano, as the lateral links between midfield and the attack, would get more touches on the ball. And don’t forget that those touches also include defensive interventions, which count as touches. It doesn’t surprise me that the L & R FBs would have more touches of the ball than the right and left wingers. I’d wonder if this isn’t true of many other Barça matches.

    3. Sanchez and Pedro only had 103 touches.

      Not sure this number is relevant. It looks small in comparison to other Barca players but it is quite normal for goal scoring players from other teams.

    4. It’s fine that they are playing their jobs well in terms of running down the defense. But here is the problem, against well oiled units especially in UCL we will struggle with only one of the front three able to get goals. Even in the match against Atletico, had the Adriano goal wasn’t there I don’t know how the game would have progressed. It’s fine Pedro and Sanchez is playing the role assigned to them. But in matches especially Messi is marked out they can’t simply run and say that they have done a good job. In the end of the day we didn’t pay more than 30 million to do the side roles. We cannot continue to have a situation where Messi is the only goal scoring outlet in the front three. Having said that Villa situation is also as dangerous. He may have scored goals this season, but majority of that came as substitute when he come and occupy a more central role. But when he starts the match he stays wide on the left and try to cut inside and is only left frustrated.

  27. Great discussion regarding Pedro or Sanchez.They have great work-rate and create pressure and chaos with their dynamism but IMO it also disconnects them from the rest of the team.

    Without that almost telepathic network of the mutual anticipation they look like they are making “obvious” mistakes. Wrong decisions when and where to pass or when to try to beat their defender or shoot. And they often find themselves alone with nobody to pass to during their attacking moves since the rest of the team is not in sync with them.

  28. Scrumptious discussion! Thanks Euler, Kxevin and everyone!

    Just my 5 cents – Busquets!!!
    It’s no secret that he plays at a consistently high level and has almost no dropoff games (except at CB). But in this match.. so, so influential at both ends. Apart from being a one-man wall in midfield, perfectly anticipating where the ball is going to be, he had a hand in 3 goals, created a brilliant chance for Iniesta and showed a Xaviesque passing range, both in outlet and incisive passing. Oh, and the GOAL. This highlight video ranks up there with Iniesta’s signature work.

    On Villa: no matter how the Villa situation develops, we did not overpay for him. One might say he came to us past his peak and never fully integrated. Nonetheless, he was instrumental to the CL win in 2011. Barca only won 4 of those in how many years? We are spoiled by what this team has given us, but a CL trophy is a unique combination of peak talent, hard work and luck, and no price is too high for a key player in a winning combo. We didn’t win with Ibra or with Villa out, did we? Imagine having him to come off the bench against Chelsea.

    On Pedro and Alexis: I always think about them in basketball terms. There are good and great players in the NBA. Good ones are amazing at one thing at a time: attacking or defending. Great ones are adept at both, and add some magic, intangibles, chemistry that allow them to single-handedly change the course of a game.
    Barca system, which has it roots in Total Football (although it’s not the same), requires defenders to attack and attackers to defend (due to the Messi situation, other attackers have to defend twice as hard). This relies a cadre of great players with fantastic work ethic. But not many players in the world can defend like Alexis and Pedro do + contribute significantly to the attack on limited touches and chances. Not CR, not Villa, Ibra or Van Persie. I can think of 3 who can, physically: Rooney, Falcao and Cavani, but neither is asked to play a restricted tactical role. It’s a matter of mentality (defenders, facilitators and scorers approach the game with different mindsets), physical shape, instinct and hunger.
    I believe both or one of Pedro and Alexis could become great two-way players within the Barca system, but it’s a very tough ask and it would make them truly elite.

    The point of this ramble is that I’m very happy with what our wingers contribute to the team. With Pedro, Alexis, Alba and Adriano combo, we basically have four full-backs who exchange positions, back each other up, can solidify the team defensively against great attacking sides, but also occupy defenders on both wings and potentially pull the trigger. When Messi is well-defended or off, out plan B involves scoring from full-back and midfield runners (both Xavi and Ini took shots, Busi scored, Fabs is very important here), not a designated second scorer. Tito is not clueless, and the team is fine.

    1. Good analogy comparing the Barca game to basketball because part of their training does borrow from other disciplines – basketball, handball and waterpolo. The Barca football coaching team has always had other trainers or players from other sports on the staff which helps to integrate some of the tactics used in these sports, or they bring them in for specialised training. It happened a lot when Pep was manager.

    2. Thanks for that bit of insight, Michele. I always wondered – Barca football does seem to borrow a lot from other sports, tactically and technically, to the point it looks like a different game to what everyone else is playing 🙂

    3. Our first live game at Camp Nou was in the 2008/09 season and the home game against Malaga which Barca won 6-0.

      As we follow handball and waterpolo (both big sports here in Spain), we could see the similarities in how Barca was playing the ball around the outside perimeter of the penalty box, looking for an opening through which to send in a player to score.

      By the end of that game, we were sitting there with our mouths open, barely unable to comprehend the magic that we had just witnessed. We’d seen a bit of it with Spain against Germany in the Euro 2008 final, but it was a diluted example in comparison to how Barca played that night.

      Interestingly, that Malaga game had a #2 player as a CB and he was simply awesome. Nothing got past him and he was all over the pitch closing down Malaga attacks. It was Martin Caceres, and we thought that he was amazing in that game. Such a shame that he fell out with Pep for whatever reasons.

    4. I still haven’t seen Barca live, but it’s getting closer. Maybe in May. I’m not, strictly speaking, a football fan and cannot sit through a game of any other team. But I saw some of the stuff Barca was playing with Ronnie and young Messi in 2006 and fell in love. Then Pep team showed me what football could be, at the pinnacle of sport and art and pure beauty. After that, I’m just pretty much happy with whatever comes next.

      Saw Caceres come on as a sub for Juve this season and add a lot of energy, power and determination. Hope his career finally takes off at that level. Juve have a scary team.

  29. Last season, you could give Guardiola’s Barça the ball, like a plaything with which to amuse a child. They would pass it around, make wondrous things with it, but you would mostly be okay as long as you retained your shape and didn’t do anything silly.

    Give Vilanova’s Barça the ball, and it will kill you, because it is impatient. It shoots from distance, it rushes the box, it eschews the magic of tika-taka for one dude saying to the others, “Watch this!” And the longer Vilanova’s Barça has the ball, the more likely it will kill you with a moment of magic.

    We all notice the difference between this season and the last. This season the players are going in full force whereas last season they just passed the ball to death.

    You know I’ve been wanting to ask this question here for the past few weeks already but I just had too much work and the questions are in the other laptop but since you already brought that topic up, I’ll just ask it now.

    How big is the coach’s influence actually? In terms of how the team plays. I for one can’t imagine Pep telling the players last season to just pass the ball around cautiously so that we do not lose possession. But what we all saw that that was what the players were doing.

    Fast forward to this season and all of a sudden the players pass the ball around with intent, with pace, penetrating passes. They have a more daring approach.

    Same set of players. Same oppositions. Same tactics imposed by the oppsitions. Only difference is our coach (Pep to Tito).

    What do you guys think is the reason in the change? Could it really be that Pep asked the players to pass the ball to death? where Tito on the other hand tells them to pass around faster?

    We have the same players. I just can’t imagine that they would accept that tactic from Pep. I just can’t but I also can’t imagine Pep instructing them that.

    So what is the reason? Why were they like that last season?

    1. One of my theories is because of Tito playing Cesc in the middle as opposed to Pep playing him in front as LW or as a false 9 or 10 and Iniesta in the middle.

      This season Tito played switched their positions.

      By putting him in midfield, our play becomes more faster due to his direct style. Last season Pep played Iniesta in midfield instead where of course, him and Xavi are more cautious.

      But my theory could be wrong because Iniesta played LW quite a number of times too last season.

      What do you guys think?

    2. It’s a different season, with new/players who got better/more motivated players and our opponents also have changed a bit.
      Plus we have not ended the season yet. Let’s wait to make a full assessment when the season is over.

      Maybe Tito proposed cesc playing there last season. Maybe he reviewed as a lesser option , or maybe that’s just the natural progress of the system and the players.

  30. Btw mods, if any of you want to put up a new post, please bring the comment above forward. I’m heading to bed now. I always worry about posting a comment before bed because that is usually the time a new post comes up. Cheers!

  31. I also need to see the action (in slo-mo) before Busi’s goal to see if Alexis assisted that. Someone kicked the ball between Puyol’s legs out to Busi, and it may have been Alexis because he was in there hustling for the ball beside Puyol.

    That’s some imagination you got there 😆

    No way did he assisted that. It was a just a scramble. He had no idea and I don’t think he even intended to pass the ball or whatever he was trying to do.

    I hardly comment on Alexis but I feel that some bloggers here give him a little too much credit for the simplest thing he does. spanking a stinker of a pass over to Messi

    I can’t really comprehend whether this was meant as a screw the pooch type of stinker or a beauty of a pass kinda stinker. Help me out here.

    Either way, it wasn’t a good pass. It just happened that the La Masia players have an amazing first touch.

    One thing I really like about Alexis is his distracting runs. They create space. He is really smart with that.

    Both he and Pedro really should start getting in goal scoring positions soon and score. Messi and the defenders have been carrying them in goal scoring duties.

    1. Oh and Alexis had 2 Tello-passes in the match where he made a cut back pass straight to the opposition in the middle. None of our players were anywhere near the intended pass. Just like Tello did a couple of times from there the name 🙂

    2. Tells is a good comparison actually. He doesnt have a great final ball but has carried massively more goal threat than Alexis this year in the same position despite being slightly predictable. Not sure Tito sends them out with one told to attack and the other to pass backwards. It’s also not that Alexis never takes on his man- he just seldom seems to beat him . It’s where I’d draw a slight distinction with Pedro who, although in a real goalscoring slump still seems to have his dribbling skills.

    3. One question, with tello playing, was the LW anywhere near as dominating as it was yesterday? particularly in the second half? Just because someone remains a goal threat does not necessarily imply he contributes more to the team. More importantly finishing chances falls into tello’s skill set, alexis has never been a brilliant finisher, maybe that explains why he lacks some confidence(and also why he pisses me off everyone whenever he passes backward from an advantageous position)

    4. If you want to criticise Alexis for his pass to Messi (from which Messi scored), why don’t you criticise Messi for his attempted pass to Alexis in the second half which should have given Alexis a one-on-one with the keeper. It was the worst pass of the match and Messi looked embarrassed. Surely, in fairness, you should have mentioned that.

    1. On the link I provide there’s a video link that says, “Remarkable story of Lionel Messi” If you click on it you’ll see a 45 second commercial for Turkish Airlines. It features Messi and Kobe Bryant! 1st time I’ve seen it. They are both doing amazing tricks to impress a kid running in the aisles. Pretty clever. 🙂

    2. Which just goes to prove that no one really does read my previews.

      Think I’ll just post ipsum lorem from now on. 😀

  32. barcastuff ‏@barcastuff

    The doctors that carried out Eric Abidal’s liver transplant have given the green light for the defender to play again #fcblive [rac1]


    1. I’m scared more than I’m happy. If something happens to him it’s going to be devastating.

      That said, welcome back King, and be careful!

    2. I knew that he had changed his Facebook Cover image to an Espanyol game for a reason – it’s being played on Kings’ Day in Spain!

      Holy smoke – coming into the big part of the season too. Take it easy, Eric.

      I’m sure that Tito will be super-careful with him, just as he was with Villa and all the others coming back from injury.

  33. On a twitter feed and I can’t remember which, I saw this comment:

    When Puyol finally dies, I give it 3 weeks before he’s back on the pitch.

    I thought that was brilliant. 🙂

  34. Malaga playing in the Basque country against Eibar in the CdR right now. If those holes were any bigger on the pitch, the Malaga players would disappear. And it’s raining heavily.

    Pellegrini’s done the right thing by playing a few B players and second stringers.

    0-0 with 20 mins to go.

    Saving themselves for the big game against Madrid this weekend.

  35. I was looking at the Liga tables from last year and this. Last year, EE average 3.18 goals per game, this year they’re down to 2.44.

    Their defense is basically the same: .815 to .875.

    Thong Boy, at the same time, is down from scoring more than once a game (1.21) to less than once a game (.875).

    If he had the same scoring rate as last year, that’d be an extra 5 goals in the first 16 games, which could’ve translated into an extra 5-6 points for them, between games they maybe could’ve tied (Getafe, Sevilla) and games they might’ve won (Barca, Espanyol).

    So basically, you can attribute some portion of their “slump”, be it as it may, as the difference between Thong Boy playing out of his mind to Thong Boy just playing really, really, really well.

    They’d still need half a goal a game from somewhere else on the team.

    Amazing in a way. But goes to show you what even the smallest slips on this level translate to.

    1. Yes – Cristiano hasn’t been scoring as many in La Liga.

      However, his total stats in comparison to last year, show that he’s only one goal (23) down from last year (24) with the same amount of games played.

      I think that he’s scored more in CL this year.

  36. Watching Getafe at home from last year. Not sure how many remember that match, but Guardiola put Sanchez at center, playing off of Messi. His first goal was a Messi goal: fast lateral sprint, ball at his feet. In the sliver of space, he smoked a shot past the Getafe keeper.

    Significantly, he took a chest pass from Messi and fromthe moment he got the ball, Messi didn’t seem to cross his mind again. Space. Shot. Goal. Then he did a slick dribble/move to set Pedro up for a chance that deserved a better fate. He was aggressive, dynamic and effective, playing WITH Messi as an equal, rather than these days, seeming to play FOR Messi as a subordinate. Not sure what happened.

    These days it seems that Messi is a reference. When someone gets a pass, they check to see if Messi is open. Anyone else noticing this?

    Within 5 minutes of each other, Sanchez skied over a Getafe defender to bang in a header, then Pedro lofted in a header, also from center. Euler’s tactical notes are certainly making more sense as this year, they wouldn’t even BE in the middle. But there’s something else going on. Weird.

    1. Human nature? Maybe the worst thing about Messi playing all the time is that everyone else gets in the habit of looking for him as option 1.

    2. That match vs Getafe at home was IMO one of the seminal matches Barca played under Pep. It was amazing:

      For me-that match was pure Guardiola. Even as his own tenure as manager was coming to a close he was still looking forward to the future of the project. Still pushing it forward.

      That match set the blue print for much of what we’ve seen from Barca this season. It’s part of why I think that if Pep had stayed we’d still have seen many of these threads of change we’re seeing now (not all – but many of them).

      Analyzing that match also made it clear to me how important it was going to be to have the flexibility this season to play a 9 and a 10 off each other especially vs compact blocks. The player in front can create space for the player behind by occupying two defenders.

      This was exactly the role Sanchez played for Messi vs Atleti this past week.

      Creating a structure where Sanchez & Messi could interchange through the middle would be very exciting. But it’s tough to get them on the pitch together in those roles. Cesc in a sense is playing part of the role Sanchez did in that match vs Getafe.

      Perhaps the most expressive formation Barca can play is a kind of 3-5-2 with Messi & Sanchez up top playing off of each other. Having so much possession makes that more difficult to execute however. Though Barca did come close to playing that shape vs Atleti. Puyol-Pique 2 deep. Busi-sweeper. Xavi/Iniesta in CM. Alba & Pedro wing backs. Cesc at the 10. Messi and Sanchez as a two man unit up top. I’d love to see that. Would be so kinetic.

    3. Do we really think Tito sends the team out with instructions to pass the ball to Messi all the time? I’d hate to think so. I come back to the Dalglish at Celtic analogy I’ve used before. It’s okay being the focal point when things are going well but it’s a heavy burden eventually and will get anyone down. Dalglish eventually had to get out. That’s why, despite his goals, we need someone to take a lot of the weight off him, goal wise.

      On Alexis, I’d certainly like to see more of that aggressive attitude – I’m just not sure that the lack of it can be put at anyone’s door other than his own. I know I hark on about this but I’ve seen the videos on YouTube and he was once a real threat to defenders.

    4. I don’t, Jim. I think it’s player psychology. I last saw it with the championship Chicago Bulls. Everybody passed to Jordan because …. well …. it was Michael Freakin’ Jordan. Nobody wanted to be the one to screw up by not making the play work, when the nuclear option was one extension of your arms away. Likewise for Messi, I think. It’s that special psychology of playing with such a titanic force. It’s almost actually magnetic, and players are probably doing it without even realizing it.

      That Getafe match wasn’t just brilliant, it was certainly Sanchez’s best match in the colors.

    5. These days it seems that Messi is a reference. When someone gets a pass, they check to see if Messi is open. Anyone else noticing this?
      The Camp Nou’s new puppy can tell you all about it.

  37. Beautiful article by Ruben Uria about Abi:
    “Norman Mailer wrote: “In the end of the day, a heroe is someone that would want to argue with the gods, and like that weakens the demons to fight his vision”. That’s precisely Eric Abidal, a hreo. A heroe that returns home because he never left.”–sow.html;_ylt=ArQ7vZavpD.EZ4OBdAsHpEZOj6x_;_ylu=X3oDMTFlajIzMXJxBG1pdANCTE9HUyBCbG9ncyBJbmRleARwb3MDMQRzZWMDTWVkaWFCbG9nSW5kZXg-;_ylg=X3oDMTFpaTZvOWFuBGludGwDZXMEbGFuZwNlcy1lcwRwc3RhaWQDBHBzdGNhdANibG9nBHB0A3NlY3Rpb25z;_ylv=3

    1. Beautiful!
      Although I suppose the translation would be ‘Ultimately a hero is a man who would argue with the gods, and so awakens the devils to contest his vision.’
      That quote by Mailer also goes on to say ‘The more a man can achieve, the more he may be certain that the devil will inhabit a part of his creation.’

      A quite wonderful article!

  38. Been away on holiday for a while so haven’t been on the blog much (and I’ve been on it a lot less lately the past few months with college and all too, but still).

    On the shirt sponsorship thing: Of course I’m really unhappy that we sold the sponsorship in the first place and that it is now going to a company. That said I find how iffy people are getting about the ‘dictatorial Arab countries’ a tad hypocritical- the U.S. involvements in Afghanistan (the Chile coup, Panama, etc), the Iraq War, drone attacks that kill thousands of civilians in Pakistan, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the treatment of whistleblowers, as in actual wars and targeted killings all over the world, and people don’t seem to be as iffy about it as they are about dictatorships that are oppressive (which is bad) but aren’t killing and invading on a mass scale which I think we can agree is even worse. Blitzen mentioned some. I’m not defending those regimes or trashing America or Americans, just pointing out that it just seems a biiit xenophobic a double standard unintentional or not to be more ticked off at the idea of dealings with Arab governments when we wouldn’t be as much about if it were American or so. I’m just saying this as a ‘let us be critical and actually look at our feelings on the matter and if we would be feeling the same in other situations’ thing, not to start a conflict. I’d love no sponsor at all but sadly it seems not.

    I do agree with the people saying we got ripped off at 30mil per annum, that’s so little, and I’m just very pissed off at the underhanded sneaky (misrepresenting our financial situation to make it seem more urgent, sneaking in the right to change clause, etc) way Rosell and co did this. I don’t like it at all. Rosell has done some good things and credit where it is due- by good things I mean the things he didn’t do, in resisting the urge to interfere too much, greenlighting the Tito selection, etc- but he’s been so sleazy and dishonest and it feels like he doesn’t respect the supporters and fans or their intelligence when he visibly but slyly circumvents them.

    I just wish we had a pure shirt with nobody paying us to show off their brand, but sadly that’s not an option now. As it is, oh well. If it helps us stay brutally competitive at the very highest level, I can just accept it, which I just have to anyway.

    On Falcao: brilliant striker but I do think he’s been getting a bit too flavor of the month in terms of how stratospherically he’s rated. Undoubtedly brilliant player. I think the second/third best player in the world claims are premature, or even the best centre forward in the world by far claims. He has a claim to the title, but some others like Robin van Persie for example (who is a different kind of player, more impeccable technique, but still very much a finishing centre-forward) and even Ibra who’s been ridiculous for PSG in the league and CL should be up there. I think Falcao is top fifteen or even top ten in the world right now. Not top three.

    On Atleti: I’m convinced they’re the real deal. The Real games are weird, they’re jinxed and they just wither, but the question was if they had the quality to tussle with Europe’s best to go with their insane consistency so far and that could be answered when they played us. They were actually really good. The sheer quality of one of the best teams ever with the best in the world and some of the best ever in something like half the positions on the pitch made the difference in the end and 4-1 seemed a bit unfair on them. I think this Atleti will actually last the season without collapsing. I think they’ll finish third, though, but close enough to second to keep up suspense.

    On Sanchez: I see Euler’s points but I also somewhat agree with Jim. Sanchez has been doing a job in a system, yeah, but he’s only showing a fraction of his actual talent with us and that’s a worry. In this team we need players to be both doing their jobs and bringing that special something, because that’s what made us brilliant at our best. Sanchez is this creative, explosive, skillful beast of a player that could absolutely terrorize defenders and occupy them in a way only a handful of players in the world could, he was a nuisance that is a pain to try keep a lid on. It’s so so frustrating as a football fan to not see the sheer fun a Sanchez on fire would bring, and I mean he’s got the ability to beat defenders and be a beast in the offense while working his butt off over the pitch too and I think we need some of that back. Magic from the other forwards is what makes the difference in tight games and without it we have a problem, especially in the CL. I don’t feel like Sanchez is doing all that he’s supposed to. But I feel pretty confident that Sanchez and Pedro will both work their way back to deadly attacking form. Class is permanent, etc.

    On Villa: I don’t think Villa is being neglected, I think he’s just being very slowly and carefully eased back from a very bad injury, being a 31-year-old at that. As a competitive and top-class player he’s going to be chomping at the bit for more time, of course, but I’m confident Tito and his team know what they’re doing. I mean it isn’t uncommon for 30+ players, where there are other options, to not play two games a week, so that’d be one game a week, and for one coming back from a terrible injury it makes sense to be playing even a bit less. I think we’ll have a fresh Villa throughout the crucial closing stretch of the season and I think that’ll help us in the crunch games in April and May, including the CL knockouts.

    On the team: I’m delighted with them.

  39. Reports coming in about Tito suffering a relapse after his last year’s treatment for a tumour in his parotid gland. Still waiting for full confirmation, but if true, this is saddening. Why do the good guys have to suffer like this?

    1. yesterday we found out my father has cancer and i was thinking about Tito and Abidal doing well; this morning, Tito’s relapse. Perhaps this is just life, but i don’t like it one bit.

      will they call Pep to come sub for him? (I know, probably not, but … who could do it?)

    2. I am really sorry to hear about your father. Hope he comes off it well and recovered.

      Pep coming to replace Tito (too early to speculate) till his recovery would be an “ideal” thing. But I suppose, the club will be more bothered to ascertain the state of Tito’s relapse before taking up the next step to find out a temporary stand-in.

Comments are closed.